I was now almost nine years old; and my mother, thinking the time had come for us three older children to polish the somewhat rustic ways of Sandringham, decided that a good beginning would be to learn the first simple steps of dancing. After discussing the matter with friends who had children of the same age, she formed a class of 20 to 30 boys and girls; and the doyenne of the Victorian dancing mistresses, Miss Walsh, was engaged to teach us. The class met twice a week, sometimes in the dining-room of Marlborough House, or else at one or another of the great houses of London. The little girls all had long hair, and their short dresses were pulled tight at the waist with silk sashes tied with a bow at the back; all the little boys wore Eton suits – surely one of the most uncomfortable rigs ever invented to confine the restless energy of boys. A lady at the piano provided the music; Miss Walsh, whom I remember as being decidedly stout yet surprisingly light and quick on her feet, showed us the intricate steps of the polka, the waltz, and the Highland schottische. These afternoons with Miss Walsh could hardly be described as a leap into gregariousness; even in their most abandoned moments they never approached the spontaneous fun of a children’s party. But at the same time those dancing classes meant something to the three of us: they lifted us out, if only briefly, from our walled-in life in London and brought us together with other children of our own age.
observations: In the passage above, the mother is a Queen of England, and two of the little boys are future Kings. But one fascinating fact is that Nancy Mitford (yes we do keep quoting from her letters, along with those of Evelyn Waugh - here an exchange that mentions the Duke) said the childhood described in the book is just as hers was (she was 10 years younger than the Duke, and knew him well in later life) – she thought all upper-class childhoods of the time were the same. The Duke describes spending a lot of time with his sister and brothers (there is one brother who is mentioned exactly once: the ‘Lost Prince’ John, whom we would now describe as special needs) – and, as implied above, says he was very lonely and would have loved to spend more time with other children. His relationship with his parents was not good, and there are certainly times in the book when you feel he is revealing more than he means to about his need for love and attention.
Links on the blog: the Duke of Windsor’s memoirs featured before, and Nancy Mitford's sister Diana wrote a biography of his wife - the featured excerpt contains sharp comments on Royalty and fashion. A children’s party in the 1950s is described here. The Fossil Sisters attended very different kind of dancing classes.
The picture is of a dancing class in New Hampshire, and comes from Flickr.